David Fincher is one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation – and he’s a director we can learn a lot from. We’re going to break down David Fincher directing tips by looking at interview clips and quotes from the man himself. Unlike other more guarded or mysterious auteurs, Fincher is very open about his process and why he directs the way he does. By the end, we will have a better understanding about Fincher’s unique approach to his craft and that, perhaps, there is indeed a method to his madness.
Watch: How David Fincher Directs a Movie
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David Fincher Director & Perfectionist
1. Be meticulous
David Fincher is notorious for shooting a lot of takes — some actors love it, most actors hate it. It’s funny to listen to Ben Affleck talk to Fincher about filmmaking because he was both an actor in 2014's film Gone Girl as is an insanely talented director in his own right. And I can’t think of many filmmakers in this generation who are as diametrically different than the two.
Actors who work with Fincher know that every day on set is going to be long. If you want to be meticulous like Fincher, plan ahead; and communicate your plan to your cast and crew! Communication is key — not just in film, but in every aspect of life.
"My theory about you, having thought about it quite a bit, is that you have these two incredibly powerful competing instincts as a filmmaker. One is that you have a very specific idea of how you think it will work the best and how you'd like it to be. And the other is this profound desire to discover something accidental, different, and new in the process. I think that's at the root of “the famous Fincher relentless number of takes.”
— Ben Affleck
David Fincher on Directing
2. Love cinema (there’s no other way)
Brad Pitt — a frequent collaborator of David Fincher — described watching movies with him to “watching a football game with Bill Belichick.” And that’s about the highest compliment a person can receive. Belichick is regarded as a genius when it comes to the game of football, so judging by that logic, we can say David Fincher is regarded as a genius when it comes to filmmaking.
So, how did Fincher become a genius? One could argue mostly through his love of cinema. There aren’t many (if any) reluctant geniuses in the world. Mastery is built out of passion — and Fincher is certainly passionate about filmmaking.
David Fincher Directing Color
3. Use color like nobody else
When we think of color in film, we usually think of Stanley Kubrick's bold hues or Wes Anderson's color palette. That’s because Kubrick and Anderson are known for putting color at the forefront of their films. But if you look closely, you’ll see that color is center-stage in most of Fincher’s works as well.
Look at the color temperature in this still from The Social Network:
The image is practically yellow! Now let’s take a look at the color temperature in a still from Gone Girl:
Fincher alternates between blue and yellow color temperatures — or cold and warm — in most of his movies. Once you notice it, you can’t stop seeing it. The only exceptions are Mank (which was shot in black and white) and Fincher’s feature directorial debut Alien 3, which he described as a film that “no one hated more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”
Don’t just replicate Fincher’s use of color — set out to do something unique. But consider Fincher’s use of color and look for inspiration in his works.
David Fincher on Directing Style
4. Develop a stylistic repertoire
Fincher is perhaps this generation’s most technical filmmaker. By this, I mean he’s a scholar of his craft, and a technician of utmost renown. Over the years, Fincher has developed a stylistic repertoire for shooting movies.
Here are a few tips from the man himself.
1) Don’t use Steadicams.
Why does Fincher hate steadicams? Here’s one of the best David Fincher quotes on the subject: “I hate the aesthetic of it… for the point of view of a drunk, it’s perfect!”
2) Shoot multicam.
Why does Fincher love shooting with a multicam set-up? In describing the post-production benefits of multicam, Fincher says “You want to be able to put all the screens up and go ‘oh he’s great here and he’s great here so let’s cut between these two. Oh this is not the best place’ – so you do want to sort of look at it like a live switch.”
3) Don’t be afraid of digital.
Most filmmakers have embraced digital cameras by now, but in 1992, when Fincher began making feature films, the old guard of Hollywood protected film like dragons protected treasure.
Fincher was actually one of the first prominent directors to usher in the era of digital filmmaking. Digital is often more practical and efficient than shooting on film. Film is like Technicolor — we all love the look of Technicolor (and the look of film), but it’s a nightmare to make.
David Fincher Quotes the Greats
5. Study the classics
Some years ago, Fincher made a list of the films he considered the “greatest ever made.”
Here they are (in no particular order):
And here they are written out (in case that’s too blurry to see):
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- Chinatown (1974)
- Dr. Strangelove (1964)
- The Godfather Part II (1974)
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- Being There (1979)
- All That Jazz (1979)
- Alien (1979)
- Rear Window (1954)
- Zelig (1983)
- Cabaret (1972)
- Paper Moon (1973)
- Jaws (1975)
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- All the President's Men (1976)
- 8 ½ (1963)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- Days of Heaven (1978)
- Animal House (1978)
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
- Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
- American Graffiti (1973)
- The Terminator (1984)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
- The Exorcist (1973)
- The Graduate (1967)
Can you believe 15 of Fincher’s “26 greatest movies” are from the 1970s?! I’ve long argued that the ‘70s was the best decade in cinema history – but maybe not to the same extent as Fincher.
If you want to read more about Fincher’s favorite films: here are some articles to get you started: The Graduate ending, the Citizen Kane screenplay, the legacy of Chinatown, the best Woody Allen movies, the best Alfred Hitchcock movies, the best Stanley Kubrick movies.
Quentin Tarantino Directing Tips
Over 30+ years in Hollywood, David Fincher has developed a style completely his own. If you want to learn more directing tips from a Hollywood icon, continue on with our article on Quentin Tarantino; a director who couldn’t be more different than Fincher! Follow along as we break down structure, dialogue, and music in Tarantino’s films. By the end, you’ll know Tarantino’s unique perspective on filmmaking.